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Acceleration is the single most cost-effective way to meet the needs of highly and profoundly gifted students in a classroom. Acceleration can take the form of single subject or whole grade skips. A single subject acceleration allows a student to move ahead in their subject area of strength. This is most often used with students particularly talented in math. Single subject acceleration can take the form where a student progresses through the content material at a faster self-pace. Or, the student may be exempted from completing a unit study if they can demonstrate mastery of the material before instruction begins. Demonstrated mastery can range from 85 - 95% pass rate on an end-of- unit test.

Baltimore County Public Schools, for example, has a program called Head and Shoulders which allows students to accelerate independently in math. A specially trained math tutor visits the student at least once a week in their school to go over questions and problems.

Whole grade acceleration, on the other hand, allows a student to skip an entire grade at once. For example, a child who just completed 1st grade in June may be promoted to 3rd grade for the upcoming September, bypassing 2nd grade all together. Children who skip through 3 or more grades are considered radically accelerated.

Oftentimes in Maryland, the decision to accelerate a child is a site-based one. In other words, the principal has the final say on whether a child may be accelerated to the next level of subject matter or the next grade. Local county school boards have gifted and talented offices which can be called upon for guidance with school based decision making.

Maryland law and regulations provide some support for the idea of acceleration for gifted students. The General Assembly has gone on record stating that GT students need different services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program.

At the high school level, concern often exists about ensuring that a gifted student meets all high school graduation requirements. However, close reading of state regulations clearly do not support the notion that acceleration requests cannot be accomodated because it violates HSA or course credit requirements. In fact, in 2009 the General Assembly voted to require MSDE to identify examinations that will allow students to be exempted from English 12 and Algebra 2 courses in order to facilitate early graduation from high school.

Regulations regarding course credits stipulate that a student must complete a minimum of 21 credits before they can receive a diploma. Some courses are specifically required, such as algebra and biology. However, the regulations do not require that a student must take biology in 9th grade nor that the biology class must be a 9th grade level class.

Given that MSDE allows for the AP Biology exam to be a substitute for the biology HSA exam requirement, it follows that a gifted student can be allowed to acclerate into an AP Biology class as a 9th grader without having taken a lower level high school biology course as a prerequisite. You can review a complete chart of exams that substitute for each of the four required HSA exams.

Each county school board also maintains policies and rules that govern required course for high school graduation. For example, Baltimore County's Policy 5250 and Rule 5250: Students: Graduation Requirements states that students must have 4 credits of English. It is important to note, however, that no specific English courses are required according to this Baltimore County School Board approved document.

Unfortunately, the BCPS Course and Registration Guide provides an overly generous interpretation of this Policy and Rule by stating "English 9, 10, 11, and 12 are required for graduation". Gifted advocates should keep in mind that the Registration Guide is prepared by county school employees and is not an approved Board document. Given this, school officials should not attempt to use the statement in the Registration Guide as reason alone to deny an acceleration request for a gifted student.

BCPS School Policy 6401 and Rule 6401 Instruction: Special Programs: Gifted and Talented Education Program: Program Recommendations (page 3) identifies the Executive Director of Special Programs PreK-12 as the individual who has the final approval on recommendations for subject and grade accelerations. Ms. Sonja Karwacki, the current Executive Director, has demonstrated an excellent understanding of the acceleration needs of highly and profoundly gifted students in Baltimore County.


May 22, 2018


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